[Alen Yen's ToyboxDX]

  Feb. 10-15, 2001

Day 6b. It Ends With a Whimper
with a tip o' the hat to Cybertoyz, Darren & KenA

Immediately after my morning tour at Bandai America on Tuesday, I had politely requested a meeting with a product manager for an in-depth Q & A session. The Public Relations Account Executive I was dealing with seemed friendly enough...

"Sure, we should be able to fit you in this afternoon. I'll confirm it with my boss, and make sure the right people are available. I'll call you as soon as possible."

A few hours pass. My cell phone hasn't made a noise. I return to the Bandai showroom and walk up to the same AC.

"Oh yeah! Let me talk to my boss... we'll set up a meeting. But it'll have to be tomorrow."

Fine. I have better things to do-- far, far away from this wretched industry. I call again early Wednesday morning.

"Sure. Sure. Why don't you come in this afternoon. Let me talk to my boss first, and I'll call you back."

Nada. Zip. Butkus. Alen even tries calling to confirm the interview. He gets the same run-around. I know we're the small-time; I know we're industry unknowns, but I'd prefer a simple "no" to a passive-aggressive "non-refusal." Late in the afternoon, I call back. This time, however, my call gets transferred to the Account Manager-- finally, I reach the "boss." She proves to be extremely gracious, first offering to set up a conference call. I tell her I'd rather meet a product manager in person. We set the time for 10:30AM Thursday morning. I hang up the phone thinking I've finally grabbed the brass ring.

This morning I arrive at Bandai HQ right on time. I request to see the Account Manager. Instead, out walks good old Mr. Misdirection. My heart sinks.

"Oh. Hi. Let me see if I can get someone right now."

He walks off and returns with a woman in tow. Mind you, we're still standing in the middle of the crowded lobby. It seems this is the only location they'll spare for a "meeting." She's introduced as Colleen Sherfey. No cards are exchanged. A bad sign. Mr. Misdirection hovers over us the whole time.

Here's what I learned:
  • As expected, the so-called "4.5 inch action figures" will also see Asian distribution. The 11" Gundams are directed solely for the US/domestic market.
  • The 11" Gundams don't actually transform. "Transformation" seems to be marketing-speak for allowing kids to add and remove the armor parts-- "to insure creative play." That armor will be kit parts, "designed for those who don't know how to built model kits."
  • Bandai America is considering directly importing higher grade model kits-- Master and Perfect Grades-- into specialty stores this fall, if that is, the current line does well.
  • The Anime Collector line will have articluation in the 7" figures. I learn the hard way that the word "poseability" is a no-no in the biz. It's "articulation." Always "articulation."
  • The material for the upcoming toys is TBD-- it's unknown as yet whether the new items will be PVC, ABS plastic, styrene or a combination of all.
I ask about possibly importing the Kadou Senshi line. Colleen looks perplexed. I explain that it's the higher-priced diecast collector's line. Colleen explains that Bandai has currently no interest in the collector's market. I ask about Plex's (Bandai's international design house) involvement in these new products. She has no idea what Plex is. I begin to wonder if I'm really talking to a product manager who should know these names by heart.

Seven minutes into our "meeting," my hosts suddenly move into a huddle, whispering to each other. Had I offended? Were my questions too esoteric? Was I not professional enough? Could they see through to the guerrilla within? Mr. Misdirection turns to me.

"Well, thank you, but she's got other appointments. If you have any other questions, you can leave them with me and I'll call you back."

Seven minutes. Just SEVEN GODDAMN MINUTES.

I decline his offer and thank the man. He hurries off, and I exit the building in a slump. All cynicism aside, I'm truly grateful that Colleen Sherfey even considered taking the time to meet with me. And I'd love to print her exact title, but I'm not willing to play another game of phone-tag to get that information.

I'd scheduled a tour of Hasbro later in the afternoon, but my soul can't take more of this. The lure of "real life" is too great. Anyway, everyone already knows that the new US Transformers line will be repackaged Car Robots. It's time to begin the long, arduous process of "re-adjustment."

In the immortal words of Fukui Kenji (or at least the excitable ADR artist who does his dub), "It's OVAAAAAAH!"

Day 6a. The Clouds Part For a Moment

I should have written this days ago, but the hard news got in the way. Set the Way-back Machine to this past Tuesday. I had just emerged from the Bandai showrooms after a draining hour and a half "tour" (expect an in-depth expose in the near future). I'm beat and am just a sliver away from throwing in the towel-- especially after days of butting heads with PR lackeys. I had made an appointment with Yamato/Toycom for Wednesday afternoon, but I fear I can not muster the stamina for another day at this godless event. I revisit their showroom, hoping to reschedule or even to cancel. That's when something wholly unexpected happens...

As reported earlier, Toycom's space is woefully small. As I enter, three people are packed inside, quietly discussing an appointment that had left just as I had arrived. I ask to reschedule for today; the General Manager, a slight Japanese woman, rifles through a schedule book and tells me that I might have ten minutes for a quick discussion. A tall American to her side, seemingly upset that I've intruded on more pressing matters, asks, "and who are you from?" ToyboxDX, I answer. The third man, a short Japanese fellow, steps in front of my interrogator and exclaims:

"Ah, you made us Toy of the Year!"

A big smile forms on his face. He takes my hand warmly as he introduces himself as Hiroaki Iseki, President of Yamato. The fan-boy buried within me begins to bubble to surface. I calm myself enough to sit down to begin asking questions...

When Toycom's next official appointment suddenly enters early. The American runs off to greet the new guests. There goes my luck. After the cold receptions I'd received in the past few days, I expect to be hastily booted from the premises. But Iseki-san approaches me and says, "come, let's go and discuss things somewhere else. Would you like some coffee?" The fan-boy in me takes over.

We adjourn to a nearby kitchen area. It's packed with other company reps hovering over complimentary chips n' dip. We find a small secluded nook next to the refridgerator to talk. The surreality of having a one-to-one with a toy company president amidst the stench of canned ranch dip does not escape me. My world implodes when Iseki personally makes me a cup of coffee.

I begin by asking about the legal debacle. Gingerly. Iseki-san's eyes sadden a bit. "It is unfortunate. We never want to go through that again." I could have pressed on-- act the role of the hard-nosed journalist, but the place, the time seemed importune. "What are your feelings about Toynami?" I ask. Iseki looks away, then slowly shakes his head. He does say something... but I'm sworn to keep it off the record. Perhaps I'm going down the wrong track. "TOYS! TOYS! TALK ABOUT TOYS, YOU IDIOT!" screams the fan-boy in my head.

Iseki confirms the Yamato news we've reported over the past few months. After the VF-11, we'll see the second edition YF-21. Iseki explains that he was personally not 100 percent pleased with the first version. The second edition will have a revised leg transformation mechanism to make the fuselage of the fighter mode cleaner, slimmer and more design-accurate. It will not come with a gunpod; that will be included with the fast-pack edition. Yamato plans to release the fast-pack editions first in regular colors. The VFX2 colors, while still in consideration, have not been greenlighted. Iseki does say that he did enjoy the photoshop mock-ups that we made a few weeks back. In non-Macross news, the Escaflowne is still in the earliest prototype stage. No decision has yet been reached over final material or even transformation features.

Our conversation is peppered with many pauses. I worry at times that he's equivocating, but it seems that the language barrier has reared its ugly head. For the first time in years, I begin kicking myself for not continuing my Japanese language education. Why the hell wasn't Matt Alt, TBDX's Vice President of Tactical Localization, here in New York by my side? Damn slacker. It is at the end of a particularly lengthy pause when Iseki suddenly switches gears and asks:

"What do you think about the leg transformation of our VF-1? Should the legs be removable?"

If you haven't been keeping up with Valkyrie news, here's a recap: The recent scuttlebutt is that the transformation of their VF-1 will require the removal and reattachment of the legs for fighter mode. This is in accordance to Shoji Kawamori's original design specs. In the original Takatoku and Bandai toys, there are those metal swivel bars that move the legs to the proper location, but those aren't "canon." Iseki explains that they originally planned on having removable caps over the attachment points of VF-1's nose.

I ponder his question for a moment, and with greatest amount of politeness and humility explain: "It would be better, of course, if there was no part removal on the toy. But if you insist on accuracy, the detaching legs, I'd still rather not have any caps on the toy. Collectors of transforming toys hate to have parts they can lose." Iseki smiles and replies, "well, we are working on two different prototypes right now, so we'll see."

Our chat draws to a close. I thank Iseki profusely and he walks back to his scheduled appointment. I admire the fact that a company president would go so far to please such a small and finicky audience... and that he would even honor (and be aware of) the presence of a guerilla press entity like ToyboxDX. Hurray for the upstart outsider, and many, many thanks, Yamato.

Day 5. Kibbles

Just a few tidbits to tide you over. It's Valentine's Day after all, and my heart's turned to more important matters...

X-Plus USA will release RIC's Ray Harryhausen vinyl line domestically this summer. The initial line-up will include Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, the Cyclops and the Dragon from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. All feature the articulation of your usual vinyl toy. The dragon is especially impressive with a length of over a foot and a movable jaw.

Because of Bandai's upcoming Anime Collector Escaflowne figure, chances are Yamato will not be able to import their own Escaflowne toy through their Toycom subsidiary. Yamato does retain the domestic rights to the more organic movie version of the robot, and will release a polystone statue of that design.

Toynami was a NO SHOW at Toy Fair 2001. At least for me-- since I'm a practicing Solipcist. The company certainly wasn't listed in any of the official Toy Fair guides. Nor could any of the information desks could help me find their booth.

Not Japanese toy related exactly, but Vital Toys will release PVCs based off the devil girls by some illustrator named Chris Cooper. Believe it or not, the same company also holds the action figure licensing rights to Devo and Desperately Seeking Susan.

Day 4b. Fear & Loathing At Bandai

No original ToyboxDX photos, huh? No room in Bandai America's schedule for a photo session? Well, KenA-- my not-at-all-fat, not-even-Samoan attorney-- manages to snatch an official Bandai America 2001 Spring/Fall Catalog while riding on a heady mixture of caffeine and breath mints. Distracting the crazed legalese spouting madman with a tin of Altoids, I wrest the catalog from his sweaty hands...

Yeeha, kiddies! First the quickies:

Anime Collector Big O
Big Duo, Big O's nemesis, was on display at the Bandai showroom.

Anime Collector Escaflowne
"Weapons included." Scherazade, the secondary robot, was on display at the Bandai showroom.

Anime Collector Outlaw Star
"Transforms into grappler mode!" Whee!

All a tingly? Well, here are the big boys...

4.5" Mobile Suit Original Gundam Figures
No panel lines, but the US gets different paint detailing.

Deluxe 4.5" Mobile Suit Original Gundam Figures

Deluxe Transforming Gundam
"Transformation Mode"? "Transformation Mode"? Your guess is as good as mine... none of the marketing folks at the show could give either yours truly or my not-at-all-fat, not-even-Samoan attorney a definite answer.

Deluxe 4.5" Mobile Suit Original Gundam Figure with Vehicle
It's the ghost of Clover!

Assault Troops Playsets

Deluxe Battleship Playset

Transport Playsets
The GunPerry (top) prototype was on display at Toy Fair and will come packaged with an "exclusive" Ohkwara Gundam.

Fun times ahead... fun, fun times... and last of all, just because I'm your bastard Uncle Yappy, here's:
More Fun Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Cheers to that mint-addicted, not-at-all-fat, not-even-Samoan maniac!

Day 4a. Shattering Myth
Before I condense my scrawled notes about my Bandai mis-adventure into readable form, I have to clear up some misconceptions...

The Toy Fair is a magical candy-colored carnival romp.
Perhaps you've seen sparkly toy magazine pictures of rows of swank new toys laid out like precious gems. Or perhaps you've caught a glimpse of grinning toy demonstrators and playful costumed mascots on a local newscast. Toys! Fun! Toys! Fun!

Sorry, wide-eyed dreamers, Toy Fair is NOT a fun experience. It is a trade show, pure and simple. The general toy-covering media picks up perhaps one percent of what actually goes on at Toy Fair. If you've ever been to a trade show in your professional life, you'll know what to expect. If not, here's a taste:
  • Miles and miles of tiny no name company booths huddled together like makeshift shanty towns.
  • The bottom-dwellers, the so-called "independents" that corner you as they rant about some amorphous intangible product they're hawking. Never make eye contact with them... never...
  • Life-long sales reps, deadened by too many years at Toy Fair, who stink of grain alchohol by noon.
  • The utter lack of creativeness. It's the same odious thinking that occurs in any industry: jump on a trend. For 2001, everyone's producing either 12" military figures or robot dogs. Or both. Sanrio's even replacing trusty Keroppi with a robot canine, Robo-chan. Sacrilege!
I have a new-found respect for toy journalists willing to cover the event from start to end. A strange numbness hits you within half an hour of entering either of Toy Fair's two locations. Maybe it's the wave of sameness I described above, or maybe it's the plastic fumes. Or it could be the lilting, hypnotic sounds of toy-ese ("MSRP!" "price point!" "packing ratio!"). Whatever the cause, the event is exhausting and ultimately soul crushing. To dutifully report on Toy Fair and still maintain your dignity requires nerves of steel. Or a hefty recompense. Or complete sociopathy.

Once you're official Toy Press, you're golden.
Alen and I took a lot of effort to gain official press status for TBDX this year. But even with that lovely beige press pass, TBDX is a non-entity (nothing's lower on the totem pole that a dotcom) to hordes of PR flacks that seem to guard every booth, large or small. Getting a press kit is easy enough. But original photos? Jumping through bureacratic hoops to obtain that holiest of holy, the sacred "Photo Session," has proved to be an unsurmountable task.

Unlike other toy sites, we're not funded by larger parent organizations; we do not have deep insider connections, and at this point, I could give a rat's ass about the industry. Remember: ToyboxDX always been a grass roots, non-profit band of passionate creatives who toil endlessly only for the LOVE OF THE TOY.

So I regret that there will no TBDX photos of the Toy Fair except for the ones you see above. Do not expect any. Do not request any.

Yappy is a whiny punk.
Why yes, yes he is.

Day 3. Banzai!!!

Commentary and sociological dissection later... News first... Big, big news...

Thanks to the amazing Alen-powered TBDX press kit, I finally make an appointment to the closed showrooms of Bandai America (tomorrow morning, folks... relax...). A word to the wise TBDXers... the industry is now watching. Juicy quotes from Bandai's official press kit below...

As we already know, Original Gundam Mobile Suit: Mobile Suit Gundam (that's the official title) will begin airing on cartoon network in the Spring, followed by The 08th MS Team, Gundam 0080 and Gundam 0083. Here're the US-targeted toys we'll be receiving...
Deluxe Transforming Gundam: For more realistic and exciting play, this 11-inch Deluxe Transforming Gundam can transform into various modes and kids can build the Mobile Suit's weapons and armor. Available in Gundam GP01Fb and Gundam GP-02 designs. (May MSRP-$29.99)

Deluxe Original Mobile Suit Gundam Action Figures with Vehicle: These 4.5-inch action figures feature over 20 points of articulation and come with action vehicles or various weapons. The action figures can be combined with the vehicle or weapons to transform into various battle modes. Available in the following characters: Gundam and G-Fighter; and Zaku and Mazera Attack Tank. (April MSRP-$7.99)

Deluxe Original Mobile Suit Action Figures: These 4.5-inch action figures feature over 20 points of articulation and come with various signature character weapons. Available in the following characters: Gundam RX-78-NT-1, RGM-79 GM & RB-77 Ball, MS-07 Gouf & Do-Dai YS, RX-79 (G) Gundam Ex8, Gundam GP-01 Fullburnern [sic], Gundam GP-02, MS-14A Gelgoog, MAN-02 Zeong and MS-18E Kempfer [sic]. (April MSRP-$5.99)

Transport Playsets: These playsets open up to reveal a unique enviroment and include an exclusive 4.5 inch action figure. Available in Gunperry (Earth Federation) and Gallop (Zeon). (Fall MSRP-$27.99)

Deluxe Battle Ship Playset: This highly detailed Battle Ship Playset is designed in the shape of a space warship and comes with five 1-inch Mobile Suits. Each set includes a battleship stand with the Zeon/Earth Federation emblem. Available in the following battleships: Assault Carrier Albion, Mobile Cruiser Peer Gynt and Mobile Cruiser Zanjibar. (Fall MSRP-$11.99)

Assault Troops Playsets: The military airplane playsets contain 5 1-inch Mobile Suits. Each playset has a hatch that opens to fit the mobile suits inside. Available in the following designs: Transporter Midea and Flying Assault Carrier Gau. (Fall MSRP-$11.99)
We'll also get all the previously released 0079 MSiAs as "Basic Action Figures," (MSRP-$5.99) as well as the Gundam Hero Figure collection of 4.5" character (Amuro et al.) figurines (MSRP-$4.99 each). Bandai America will also release the HGUC model line as 1/144 "action figure model kits," but we all know those ain't toys... But for you gun-pra fans, they're promising a 1/144 NT-1. Whether this will be a new HG-UC or the older kit is TBD...

Bandai America and Bandai Entertainment, Inc (their video distribution branch) will partner to introduce the Anime Collector line in July. Here's Bandai's own words:
Escaflowne Anime Collector Set will be available in the following character designs: a 7-inch Escaflowne figure including weapons and armors; a 4.5-inch Van figure and a 4.5-inch Hitomi figure.

Big O Anime Collector Set will be available in the following character designs: a 7-inch Big O figure, a 4.5-inch Roger figure and a 4.5-inch Dorothy figure.

Outlaw Star Anime Collector Set will be available in the following character designs: a 7-inch Starship, a 4.5-inch Gene figure and a 4.5-inch Melfina figure.

Cowboy Bebop Anime Collector Set will be available in the following character designs: a 7-inch Sword Fish II Spacefighter figure, a 4.5-inch Spike figure and a 4.5-inch Faye figure.

Pilot Candidate Anime Collector Set will be available in the following character designs: a 7-inch Errn-Laties figure, a 4.5-inch Zero figure and a 4.5-inch Kizuna figure.
Expect proper slide-scans tomorrow (sorry about the current quality), and much, much more news... whew!

Day 2. Yappy Overwhelmed

[Darren reporting today!] After a full day of emersion in soul-crushing, corporate bureaucracy and seeing his joyful hobby reduced to a regimented, pedantic trade show, Yappy slumps home to collapse in bed. But there are a few nuggets to report.

The people who brought Pokemon to the US, the 4Kids entertainment group, plans to bring the wacky Kinnikuman series back to the US under the name "Kinnikuman: The Ultimate Muscle". As you might recall, the green-gassed wonder saw previous life in the US under the name "M.U.S.C.L.E.". Bandai may produce toys for this series.

Also, expect to see Ultraman Tiga brought to the United States! Will we get a pure dubbed import, or a Power Rangers-esque hack and slash job? Time will tell.

And, lastly, the American incarnation of the Timeranger V-Rex has been named. It's Quantasaurus Rex. Good grief, they over used the "zord" moniker, meant to sound like "saur" when used with the old Zyuranger "dino-zord" mecha. "Zord" was applied to cars, spaceships, monkeys, you name it. Finally, we get a dinosaur mecha back on the box, and what do they do? They drop the name "zord". Sigh.

Day 1. An Unexpected Beginning

My mind is still reeling from visions of armies of bleary-eyed businessmen trudging through endless featureless corridors, makeshift offices filled with gaudy bootleg toys, stairwells reeking of illicit cigarette smoke... so bear with me as I try to organize my thoughts about an exhausting first foray into the strange world of the toy industry... Toy Fair 2001...

First, special kudos to the effervescent and wonderfully kind-hearted Josh Bernard, sole proprietor of Cybertoyz, who accompanied me on this surreal mission down the river of polymer dreams. He might be a dealer, but he's also a consumate gentleman...

But enough color commentary... here's the highlights...

We meet up with Ms. Willy B.Y. Chim, Yamato's gracious and patient General Manager, in Toycom's cramped exhibition area that's no wider than ten feet across. There are no Valkyries, which is no surprise. But all's not lost as Willy hands us a 7 inch tall sky-blue figurine. It's the upcoming Giant Robo figure... We gasp... she smiles as we examine the all-plastic prototype with bewilderment. Removable missile parts on the shoulders, shins and chest... exquisite detail... ball-jointed detented everything... As we've mentioned before there'll be two different molds-- one with a regular scuba-like backpack and other with its back-mounted bazooka fully deployed. And yes, they'll be making both diecast and all-plastic versions of each mold version (that's 4 variants in total). The plastic versions are targeted for the stingier US market, but the diecast versions' MSRPs are only $44.99!

Willy confirmed that the Escaflowne toy is still in the works, but the company is yet unsure whether the toy will be transformable or not. Seems the necessary engineering needed might a) prove too costly to produce b) delay production too long to take advantage of the show's "window of popularity." Oh... and one last tidbit... Yamato claims to have no involvement with Toynami's upcoming "Masterpiece Veritech" toys... More details as we visit the latter company later this week.

There were a few more surprises today... including the svelte new Kaiyodo Virtua On Cypher figure at the Diamond booth... Thinkway's Katoki-inspired electronic, motorized Gundam and Zaku statues (think of the motorized Phantom Menace banks the company produced last year)... Sideshow Toys releasing Medicom Swat/Military figures at a $40 price point... But most everything else was the same ol' domestic product. Sideshow's Dark Crystal 12" dolls were pretty damn ginchy, though... and their plans to make a 24" foam bodied Skeksis... but that's off-topic, ain't it...

Why no pictures? Well, Josh and I were only planning to register today, unaware that most exhibitors had already opened their doors. The fair doesn't officially start until tomorrow... we didn't bother to bring our cameras. Oh well. More, much more to come...


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